Turns out, not too bad. No, you weren't looking at the Jackson who defended his belt in a nip and tuck, close quarter battle with Dan Henderson in London. Or the Jackson who lifted Ricardo Arona high into the air, and threw him back down to Earth like he was holding an infinity stone. But he was legitimately trying against a fighter on a warpath to get to a title shot against Jon Jones.
The fight itself is worth watching. But one of the markers of Jackson's decline is how badly he gauges distance now. A lot of his punches fall short in the Teixeira fight. The punches themselves are swung with conviction, but Rampage himself doesn't appear convinced of himself. And so now he returns. Convinced he's where he belongs.
Rampage was convinced Pride was where he belonged too. Until he didn't. Rampage was convinced the UFC was where he belonged. Until he didn't. Rampage was convinced Bellator was where he belonged. Until he didn't.
Perhaps it's Jackson that doesn't belong.
Or perhaps this is less about Jackson, and more about the UFC, and where Zuffa belongs. After all, the Jackson signing has occurred amidst a class action lawsuit that has real potential to change the way the UFC does business. And it's a head scratching signing occurring only less than two weeks from the UFC grabbing CM Punk from the confines of his couch: the end result of too many injuries in the WWE.
In the context of their hold on the American market, this is starting to look like desperation. After all, as of December 1st, the last 8 UFC PPV's have averaged 277,000 buys. Compare that to their run in 2008-2010, when they had fighters like Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre on their roster, and their average PPV buy rate was nearly 600,000. However, Jackson was quietly a big part of their success during that historic run. His PPV average stands at 568,500 buys. Obviously, you take any buy rate with a grain of salt but 8 of the 10 PPV's calculated were headlined by Jackson himself. UFC 75, which was aired on Spike in 2007, had the highest ratings of an MMA broadcast at the time with 4.7 million viewers.
Psychologists who study decision making like to look at how we gamble because gambling underlines how the effects of choice are undertermined. So understanding our intuitive preferences in the face of uncertainty can be tricky. Do you prefer tossing a coin with the chance that heads yields you $100, tails wins you nothing, or $46 for sure? When Zuffa went after Lesnar, it was like taking the $46. After all, Lesnar had a legitimate background with an NCAA division 1 title behind him. And it was HW, where the only thing certain is that you don't have to be talented to pick up wins.
However, signing CM Punk, with no actual athletic background besides the theatricality of pro wrestling to a division like Middleweight, looks like the UFC taking the coin toss. And if Punk loses, the media roasts the UFC for it. As our former rabble-rouser in chief notes:
No other sport would even consider signing a celebrity to compete at the highest level or try to pass one off as an equal to their hardworking professionals. Even Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest athlete of his era, was forced to give baseball a try in the minor leagues, not for the Chicago White Sox.
Jackson's signing is nothing like CM Punk's presence. But it represents the same hyperspace.
There aren't that many fights for Jackson at LHW. Bouts against Anthony Johnson, or rematches with Rashad Evans or Mauricio Rua make sense in a vacuum. But they don't represent the matchmaking of a confident organization. Rather, they seem to represent the figures they've signed: uncertain of where they belong.